How Saint Teresa of Calcutta gave service to the world through a sacrificial unity with Christ
Mother Teresa is officially a saint, one of the gifts of the just-wrapped-up jubilee year of mercy. So what does mercy look like? How can you and I be saints? Her life is a school of sanctity. Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, editor of the book A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve, helps us learn from her.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: How are “little humiliations gifts from God,” as she said?
Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk: On page 227 we have a typical example of what Mother Teresa taught about the way to become “holy like Jesus and humble like Mary.” Even a little hurt should not come between Jesus and us. We do not learn humility in a book, she would say, but through humiliations (a principle that surely reflects her own experience). Humiliations “will bring us close to Jesus.” As followers of the humiliated and crucified Jesus, we can expect the same. “You are my Spouse, share with Me.” God permits little humiliations (and sometimes big ones!) so that a greater good can come out of it (Rom 8:28). We can unite our big or small sufferings to Jesus’ and so “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” So these little humiliations can draw me and others closer to Him, and in this way they are gifts from Him.
Lopez: What does she mean, practically speaking, when she says: “I thirst. We thirst for love of souls.” How do people who are not canonized saints do such a thing and why would they want to? She says we “must.”
Fr. Kolodiejchuk: For Mother Teresa, the thirst of Jesus on the Cross (John 19:28) expresses His desire for the love of each human person, my love and the love of others. Jesus loved us by dying and rising for us and desires our love in return. As an essential element – even inevitably by the very nature of love – of my love for Jesus, and of my being united to Him, I also share in this desire of Jesus and labor so that others come to know and love Jesus as well (this is the “thirst for souls” of which Mother Teresa speaks). This is for every Christian, and so this is the “must” to which Mother Teresa refers.
Lopez: She also said that God “gives you the joy of sharing His suffering and humiliation with Him.” Many would question that there is joy there in such things. How do you explain this, especially to those who are suffering or who have watched someone suffer and seen no joy there.
Fr. Kolodiejchuk: One of the fruits of being loved by Jesus and loving Him in return is to want what He wants, to think like He thinks and even feel like He feels. Love unites the lovers. In Deus Caritas Est (DCE), Pope Benedict presents the ancient definition of love: “to want the same thing, and to reject the same thing—was recognized by antiquity as the authentic content of love: the one becomes similar to the other, and this leads to a community of will and thought” (17). Out of love for us, Jesus chose suffering and humiliation as the means of our salvation, and thus I choose the same, as a means of loving and being united to Him, and in the belief that, united to Jesus, my suffering and humiliation can be for the good of others. As for Jesus, suffering and humiliation is a means of love, and has value not in itself but as an expression of love. There is joy even in suffering, then, because one is suffering with and for Jesus and for others. This is the “joy of loving,” as Mother Teresa kept repeating. As Pope Benedict says in DCE 17, “the ‘yes’ of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing act of love.” Joy in suffering is seen and lived from the perspective of faith. It is something that is perhaps easier experienced as spiritual peace felt in the depth of one’s heart at the fact that one is united with the beloved in His suffering and that one is accomplishing His will.
Lopez: “Deep down in every human heart there is a knowledge of God,” Mother Teresa said. How do we know this for sure?
Fr. Kolodiejchuk: I think Mother Teresa in this quote (and in the couple of paragraphs that follow) expresses the constant conviction of both theologians and human experience. We may try to deny it or cover it up or distract ourselves, but we can’t shake our openness and desire for something more, something greater. As Bishop Barron says, we desire truth, but are never satisfied; we seek the good, but no matter how many good things we obtain, we are never satisfied; we seek justice, but never enough. In a word, we can’t desire what we don’t know. Our ability to love shows this especially well. By desiring the fullness of love, of truth, of the good, of justice, of beauty – of what transcends this world – we must in some sense already know it. God is love, truth, beauty, goodness, so we are in fact seeking God.
As St. John Paul II observed in Fides et Ratio, “God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).”
You would need to ask a theologian to get a better answer.